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Electronic Textiles: Wearable Computers, Reactive Fashion, and Soft Computation

Joanna Berzowska



lectronic textiles, also referred to as smart fabrics, are quite fashionable right now. Their close relationship with the eld of computer wearables gives us many diverging research directions and possible denitions. On one end of the spectrum, there are pragmatic applications such as military research into interactive camouage or textiles that can heal wounded soldiers. On the other end of the spectrum, work is being done by artists and designers in the area of reactive clothes: second skins that can adapt to the environment and to the individual. Fashion, health, and telecommunication industries are also pursuing the vision of clothing that can express aspects of peoples personalities, needs, and desires or augment

social dynamics through the use and display of aggregate social information. In my current production-based research, I develop enabling technology for electronic textiles based upon my theoretical evaluation of the historical and cultural modalities of textiles as they relate to future computational forms. My work involves the use of conductive yarns and bers for power delivery, communication, and networking, as well as new materials for display that use electronic ink, nitinol, and thermochromic pigments. The textiles are created using traditional textile manufacturing techniques: spinning conductive yarns, weaving, knitting, embroidering, sewing, and printing with inks.

Joanna Berzowska is an Assistant Professor of Computation Arts at Concordia University and the founder of Extra Soft research studio in Montreal. She has shown her work in the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum in NYC, SIGGRAPH, ISEA, Arts Electronics, Art Directors Club in NYC, Australian Museum in Sydney, NTT ICC in Tokyo, and the Banff New Media Institute among others.

Textile, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp. 219 Reprints available directly from the Publishers. Photocopying permitted by licence only. 2005 Berg. Printed in the United Kingdom.

Electronic Textiles: Wearable Computers, Reactive Fashion, and Soft Computation

Electronic textiles, also described as smart fabrics in popular media, have become quite a fashionable research area. An electronic textile refers to a textile substrate that incorporates capabilities for sensing (biometric or external), communication (usually wireless), power transmission, and interconnection technology to allow sensors or things such as information processing devices to be networked together within a fabric. This is different from the smart textiles that feature scientic advances in materials research and include things such as better insulators or fabrics that resist stains. Electronic textiles allow little bits of computation to occur on the body. They usually contain conductive yarns that are either spun or twisted and incorporate some amount of conductive material (such as strands of silver or stainless steel) to enable electrical conductivity. The eld of electronic textiles combines the worlds of textiles and electronics, and explores techniques that redene construction methods and streamline production processes. Its close relationship with the eld of computer wearables leads to many possible intersections and diverging research directions. On one end of the spectrum, there are pragmatic applications such as military research into interactive camouage or textiles that can heal wounded soldiers. On the other end of the spectrum, work is being done by artists and designers in the area of reactive clothes: second skins that can adapt to the environment and to the individual. Fashion, health, and telecommunication industries are also pursuing the vision of clothing that can express aspects of peoples personalities, needs, and desires or augment social dynamics through the use and display of aggregate social information. Whereas textile research is often motivated by consumer demand in the fashion or interior design industries, electronic textile research remains heavily inuenced by funding sources and policy decisions. Many current projects and applications reect the funding structures and interests of the consumer electronics industry, the military, or the health industry and are predicated on advances in health monitoring or biometric sensing, the need for time management devices, and growing security concerns. What is often forgotten in current research is the intimacy of textiles, their close proximity to the body, and their potential for personal expression and playful experimentation.

Wearable Computers
My rst exposure to wearable computing occurred as a graduate

Electronic Textiles: Wearable Computers, Reactive Fashion, and Soft Computation

student at the MIT Media Laboratory. I was working in close proximity with cyborgs such as Steve Mann who dene wearable computing as the act of wearing a computer on their bodies. They are motivated by their claim that personal computers have not lived up to the promise of being truly personal machines insofar as they are not sufciently integrated into our personal, social, and cultural sense of self. The current Wearable Computing Lab at MIT, called the Borglab, focuses on the idea of incorporating a personal computer into ones daily wardrobe to allow ubiquitous access to computational power and universal connectivity (MIThril 2004). The computer is decomposed into individual components (such as the motherboard, batteries, and wireless communication card), which are repackaged and distributed around the body in pockets. Instead of a computer monitor, cyborgs use various kinds of head-mounted displays, attached to hats, glasses or straps. For input, they use unobtrusive input devices such as the Twiddler, a combination keyboard and mouse that ts in the palm of the hand and incorporates an ergonomic keypad designed for pressing several keys simultaneously, or chord keying, to generate a unique character or command (Handykey 2004). Together with personal wireless local area networks, communication tools, contextsensing software, and communities of colleagues (intellectual collectives), the wearable computer can act as an augmented reality

intelligent personal assistant. For example, the Remembrance Agent (Rhodes 1997) is a wearable proactive memory aid and data system that continually reminds the wearer of potentially relevant information based on the wearers current physical and virtual context. The wearable computing vision implies that people in the future will wear personal computers in the same sense that we wear clothing, in order to facilitate contextdependent interactions with the world and the people in it.

easily and effortlessly, without the fear of dropping or breaking the components. Furthermore, it should not be awkward, or dangerous, to get caught in the rain. In order to become wearable in the same way that a cashmere sweater or a pair of Spandex pants are wearable, wearable computing needs to integrate and assimilate ideas and methods from another wearable technology, one that is thousands of years old and much more appropriate for housing the body. In order for the wearable computer to be more wearable, it needs to be knit onto the body and The Meaning of Wearable conductive yarns need to replace It is ironic that although they wires. are powerful, these wearable Textiles, whether knit or woven, computers are not very wearable. are tougher, more exible, more Their various components are durable, and much more wearable made of hard plastic, metal, than a printed circuit board (Post and silicon. They are heavy et al. 2000: 21824). Textiles and angular. Their weight is have mechanical, aesthetic, and uncomfortable for extended use material advantages that make and the advantages of wearing them ubiquitous in both society such devices are not clear to a and industry. The woven structure majority of people. of textiles and spun bers makes The transition of the computing them durable, washable, and device from the desktop to the conformal, while their composite body is a physical leap that nature affords tremendous variety also requires a conceptual in their texture for both visual leap. Materials need to change, and tactile senses (Post et al. functionality needs to evolve past 2000: 21824). Electronic textile the point where wires hang along research aims to combine wearable the users body, and the computer computing with textiles and move housing (the clothing) needs to be towards the vision of a seamless more attractive. Most importantly, integration of computation on the wearable computer needs to the body. There have been many be less fragile. Users who wear technological innovations in the such a thing should be able to eld of electronic textiles in the do so without the fear of hurting past twenty years, many of them their wearable. They should be driven by military research in the able to run, jump, dance, and push US. These innovations are starting their way into a crowded subway. to trickle down into consumer They need to wear the computer applications.

Joanna Berzowska

Military Research
The genesis for much of the current electronic textiles and wearable computing comes from technological innovations developed through various well-funded military programs. The Objective Force Warrior Program at the Natick Soldier Center in Massachusetts and the MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN 2004), founded in March 2002 with a $50 million contract from the US Army, are two such programs expected to produce ideas and innovations that will percolate down to future commercial and artistic applications. Electronic textile research into better and stronger soldiers includes the development of integrated sensor arrays and various embedded sensing technologies for deployment in clothing, backpacks, tents, or vehicles. Sensing can function both inward and outward. Biofeedback can track a soldiers vital signs to enhance endurance and overall health, such as socks with pressure sensors that alert you to put your feet up to lower blood pressure (Voss 2001). Environmental sensing can detect enemies or potential biochemical threats, such as a woven conductive fabric with embedded buttonsize microphones that detect the sound of remote objects such as approaching vehicles (Dean 2002). By comparing the sounds from each microphone, a microcontroller can algorithmically determine the direction of the sound. The fabric, woven using existing textile manufacturing methods, allows for the construction of very large

computing systems with integrated sensors and power supplies. Currently, pockets in the fabric hold batteries to power the system but scientists predict that future circuit boards and batteries will be woven directly into the material. A second active research direction involves smart, dynamic, responsive, or interactive camouage: uniforms that possess chameleon-like qualities and can change color when a soldier moves from a desert environment to an urban one. This exciting area of research will lead to many applications for visually adaptive clothing that displays personal information or changes according to mood, time of day or other internal or external input. A third major direction, leveraging nanotechnology research, consists of textiles that can facilitate medical diagnosis, provide treatment, and endow the soldier with improved strength like an exoskeleton. Current research includes bandages that warn of the beginnings of an infection and even identify the responsible bacterium and the appropriate antibiotic needed to treat it (Voss 2001). Longer term projects include textiles for chemical suits that can automatically self-repair if torn. Electronic, computer, and communication devices are also being woven into fabrics so the materials can react automatically to stimuli. MITs ISN (2004) focuses on technology that can make soldiers less vulnerable to enemy and environmental threats. The ultimate goal is to create a futuristic battle suit that combines high-tech capabilities with light weight and comfort. Projects

Electronic Textiles: Wearable Computers, Reactive Fashion, and Soft Computation

include the study of deformation and failure in high-performance fabrics, in order to develop new ways to provide the future soldier with superior ballistic protection as well as the development of microbicidal, antiviral, and antisporal fabrics and other materials (ISN 2004).

sensors record more than forty health parameters, both vital signs and indicators of psychological state, like sighing. A belt-mounted device records the data and can send it to a doctor who might notice dangerous patterns and adjust medications accordingly (Hardesty 2001). The SmartShirt System developed by Sensatex Biofeedback and Wearable incorporates advances in textile Health Monitoring engineering, wearable computing, According to a 2002 market and wireless data transfer to study, worldwide shipments of permit the convenient collection, fabric-based wearable products transmission, and analysis of are expected to total over $47 personal health and lifestyle million in 2006. Textile-based data. Leveraging electronic biomonitoring products are textiles research, Sensatex expected to reach the market for has developed proprietary medical, public safety, military, interconnection technology to and sporting applications sooner allow sensing, monitoring, and than that (VDC 2002). These information processing devices products will be designed to to be networked together monitor the wearers physical within a fabric (Sensatex 2004). well-being and vital signs such as Originally developed for the heart rate, temperature, and caloric US Navy, the SmartShirt can consumption. expedite diagnosis and medical Companies such as BodyMedia intervention of wounded soldiers already offer wearable products on the battleeld. The protective to collect, store, process, and garment is capable of detecting present physiological and lifestyle the penetration of a projectile, information such as calories monitoring the soldiers vital signs, burned, personal activity levels, and alerting medical triage units and sleep states (Bodymedia stationed near the battleeld 2004). FitSense focuses more (DARPA 2004). Described as the explicitly on performance shirt that thinks, the SmartShirt monitoring systems for runners measures and/or monitors and walkers that provide instant individual biometric datasuch feedback on speed, distance, as heart rate, respiration rate, and heart rate (FitSense 2004). body temperature and caloric VivoMetrics produces the LifeShirt burnand provides readouts via vest with embedded electrodes a wristwatch, personal digital for heart monitoring and three assistant (PDA), or voice synthesis. conductive bands that gauge the Biometric information is wirelessly movement of the heart and lungs transmitted to a personal computer from changes in their magnetic and ultimately, the Internet elds (Vivometrics 2004). Their (Sensatex 2004).

Surveillance and Privacy

Other research involves medication compliance monitoring, biometric monitoring of young children and elderly patients, as well as tracking of children or Alzheimer patients. The loss of personal privacy implicit in such monitoring and tracking is often presented as a welcome necessity in these scenarios and is indeed easier to accept when faced with the fear of losing ones children or the fear of threats to national security. The idea of intrusive domestic connectivity and ubiquitous biometric monitoring might also be appealing to people whose only other choice would be to reside in a nursing home or other assisted living situation. Research at the Georgia Tech Residential Laboratory measures human acceptance of such lifestyle computing and personalized information devices. A medicineon-demand project studies the use of a SmartShirt to assist in the health monitoring of infants and older adults as well as a general platform for telemedicine and the study of comfort, communication latency, and privacy (AHRI 2004). In other projects, researchers use environment and activity sensing technologies to allow older adults the freedom to manage themselves in their own home, with on-demand access to medical expertise and intervention (Mynatt et al. 2000). They outline three areas of interest: recognizing and adverting crisis, assisting daily routines, and supporting peace of mind for adult children. An MIT project called House_n uses various sensors to track its occupants daily habits (Voss

Joanna Berzowska

2001). Research projects test effective humancomputer interaction techniques for the proactive encouragement of healthy behaviors related to sleep, diet, socializing, exercise, or medication adherence. Particularly for the elderly, changes in baseline activities of daily living are believed to be important early indicators of emerging health problemsoften preceding indications from biometric monitoring (Intille et al. 2002). Small and low-cost biometric and accelerometer devices are worn for days or weeks to collect data on what people are doing. The devices are being validated by the medical community for use in monitoring activities of daily living (House_n 2004). Despite the promise of increased security and independence, electronic freedom activists nd such a surrender of basic privacy disturbing, in particular when faced with the potential for abuse and misuse or these technologies. As a partial response to such concerns, MITs PlaceLab will be made available in the future to researchers interested in studying privacy and trust issues raised by highly instrumented responsive environments, including opt-out strategies, data review techniques, and methods to address the perception of control (Placelab 2004). Privacy concerns become more urgent when considering products such as the VeriChip, which consists of a miniature digital monitoring device that can be implanted in people and has the potential to be used in a variety of personal identication,

security, nancial and potential healthcare applications (Digitalangel 2004). Although it is intended to assist in locating missing children or to monitor the heart rate of high-risk patients, we have to actively question our uses of such monitoring and tracking technologieswhether they are implanted under or over our skin.

Consumer Products
While much of the research and the underlying technologies are being developed for military applications, there is a strong consumer interest in computer wearables and electronic textiles. In the last few years, technology itself has become quite a fashionable thing and emerging technologies in particular are becoming fashionable lifestyle accessories. We carry growing amounts of attractive portable computing and personalized digital devices on our bodies. We increasingly believe in the idea of being wired and connected with others and in the idea of monitoring ourselves and others. At the same time, a technology aesthetic is inltrating our cultural language and visual style. We know what technology can do for us and we want more of it, in a ubiquitous and seamless way. The Givenchy Fall 99 haute couture collection featured hard shells that looked like printed circuit boards (PCBs) enveloping the body. Some of them were outtted with glowing red LEDs (light emitting diodes). They encased the models, hinting at images of cyborgs, objectifying their naked bodies and promising a future where computer

Electronic Textiles: Wearable Computers, Reactive Fashion, and Soft Computation

motherboards will be printed on our bodies or woven to house our bodies, offering us added functionality and superpowers.

Looking more towards fashion, lifestyle, and health applications, Charmed Technology aims to deploy wireless mobile devices to navigate the Internet through Universal Connectivity eyeglasses, jewelry, or other Marc Weiser argues that digital fashion accessories. They currently technologies have evolved from manufacture the Charm Badge, mainframe computers to the an electronic business card that desktop computer and that we can upload and transmit user are now entering the age of Calm information through infrared Technology where computing technology and the CharmIT will become unobtrusive and wearable computer (Charmed ubiquitous (Weiser and Brown 2004). 1997). This next qualitative change Looking towards the future of will include the deployment of electronics applications, Philips countless wireless wearable Smart Connections has developed devices, allowing the Internet a range of prototype garments to spread from desktops to all where communication technology aspects of daily life, opening such as mobile phones and GPS thousands of new communication, (global positioning system) devices entertainment, and commerce are embedded into clothes. opportunities. Wireless Internet They study the potential of such will also reach billions of people technology to help protect children, who are not yet connected because enabling parents to pinpoint their of infrastructure requirements. We location and to communicate with will see telephony, health care, them. The garments also have a games, Post-It notes, diaries, and playful element: fabric antennaes, photography all based on wireless radio tagging and miniature remote wearable Internet communications. cameras allow children to play Developing the vision games (Philips 2000). of ubiquitous computation capabilities, communication, and Lifestyle Products information access, Xybernaut While many of the Philips Smart designs small wearable computers Connections garments are in the for specialized worker applications prototype stage, a range of lifestyle where mobility, portability, jackets developed in collaboration and hands-free operation are with Levi Strauss has already a strong concern. They feature been put on the market. These head-mounted displays and other jackets are waterproof and feature wearable input and output devices electrical components (a phone, that do not interfere with vision MP3 player, unied controller, and activity range. In user studies, microphone and headphones) that the Xybernaut Mobile Assistant can be removed before the jacket Series has been shown to increase is washed. Their high price and productivity, performance, and the fact that many early adopters safety by providing critical data to did not want to purchase duplicate workers (Xybernaut 2004). electronic devices was problematic

and the jackets were not a great commercial success. More recently, Burton Snowboards collaborated with Apple to introduce the Burton Amp smart ski and snowboard jacket. The sleeve of the jacket is augmented with pressure-sensing technology from SOFTswitch to create a soft, exible, fabric-based keypad that controls an integrated Apple iPod digital music player. Songs can be chosen and volume altered by pressing the soft keys on the sleeve, without the need to access the iPod itself. Textile products for warmth and comfort have been made possible by Malden Mills, the manufacturer of Polartec eeces (Malden Mills 2004). They have developed a eece that conducts heat through proprietary stainless steel bers that are washable, supple, and soft. Lands End has licensed the technology to create the Polartec Heat Blanket, which provides an even distribution of heating without the apparent wiring that is typical in conventional electric blankets. Malden Mills has also licensed the technology to North Face, which is using it for the high-end MET5 jackets powered by lightweight lithium batteries. Down the road, these conductive bers could relay not only heat but also data, opening the door for truly wearable, electronic textile-based computer wearables. At the same time, conferences such as WearMe and Eurowearable in the UK, UbiComp in the USA or the e-culture fair in the Netherlands hold fashion shows to consider the aesthetic, technical, and social aspects of wearable, handheld, and portable technologies.


Joanna Berzowska

These fashion shows invite projects that are less functional and more fun, expressive, and poetic. Puddlejumper, by Elise Co, is a luminescent raincoat that glows in the rain. Silk-screened electroluminescent panels on the front of the jacket are wired to conductive water sensors on the back and left sleeve. When water hits one of the sensors, the corresponding lamp lights up, creating a ickering pattern of illumination that mirrors the rhythm of rainfall (Co 2000). Elroy by Megan Galbraith is an illuminating dress that encodes time information through the visual arrangement and animation patterns of the electroluminescent panels (Galbraith 2003). Inside/ Outside by Katherine Moriwaki is part of a body of research that focuses on the behavior of people in urban public space. Inside/Outside integrates pollution sensors with an ordinary fashion accessory to provide an aesthetically and functionally integrated object (Moriwaki 2003).

I develop dynamic clothing that has the ability to change color, shape or texture over time and reactive clothing that responds to input with sound, animation or some other state change. The behavior depends on materials used in the construction of the garment, either structurally, as an embedded element or as decoration. We can think of clothing as a second skin that allows us to construct meaning in interaction with the world. One application of reactive fashion is to enable the idea of changing our skin, our identity, and our cultural context. In my current production-based research, I develop enabling technology for electronic textiles based upon my theoretical evaluation of the historical and cultural modalities of textiles as they relate to future computational forms. I use conductive yarns and bers for power delivery, communication, and networking, as well as materials for display that use electronic ink, nitinol, and thermochromic pigments. At the same time, I work with traditional textile techniques and technologies such as weaving, knitting, sewing, embroidery, quilting, etc. to create textiles that can sense, transmit power or data, and change state. The tradition of electronics design and manufacturing is to produce hard components encased in square boxes. The tradition of textiles is to produce soft structures that encase the human body. By merging the two, we can create soft circuits and develop new methods for electronics design, sensing the body, and

Soft Computation
My research with XS Labs focuses on the development and design of electronic textiles, responsive clothing, wearable technologies, reactive materials, and squishy interfaces, considered in a social and cultural context. I develop hardware and design electronic fabric applications that focus on aesthetics, personal expression, and the idea of play, as opposed to the prevalent utilitarian focus of wearable technology design on universal connectivity and productivity applications.

Electronic Textiles: Wearable Computers, Reactive Fashion, and Soft Computation


transmitting power and data. I call this soft computation: the design of digital and electronic technology that is composed of soft materials such as textiles and yarns, as well as predicated on traditional textile construction methods to create interactive physical designs. It involves the use of conductive yarns and fabrics, active materials, and exible sensors to enable the construction of electronic circuits on soft substrates. It implies a move away from traditional electronics and an exploration of emergent materials that can enable physical computation. The goal is to achieve the seamless integration of technology into the tradition of textile and fashion design.

Experiments in Reactive Fashion

At XS Labs, we are developing wearables that embody key
Figure 1 Blazer Sleeve with the illuminated snap switch. Photo by Joanna Berzowska.

concepts in soft responsive computation. Materials such as thermochromic pigments, lightemitting components, miniature speakers, and conductive yarns are used together with input devices such as soft fabric switches, variable resistors, and capacitive sensors to construct reactive garments. We are particularly concerned with the exploration of simple interactions that emphasize natural expressive qualities of electronic circuits and of the body. The Blazer project, developed by Vincent Leclerc, integrates LEDs into a sleeve to create a simple emissive display.1 We use conductive snaps to switch current and we have also explored simple ways to incorporate light into fabric, using hard xtures such as grommets and snaps to integrate LEDs into existing sewing practice.2 Blazer uses the idea of retinal persistence to make sense of an apparently random pattern of ashing lights. When the LEDs are not moving, their animated icker pattern does not form a legible

symbol. When they are moving at a particular speed, each pattern becomes arranged in space and can be read by the eye as a letter. If they move at the correct speed, the ve LEDs can effectively displays text (Figure 1). So when the body is still, we see noise. When the body is in motion, the noise becomes a message as text is displayed. The SoundSleeves project deploys the sleeve as a musical instrument (Figure 2). When the sleeves are worn, various sounds are generated as a function of the users movements in space. Moving the arms in different directions and touching/rubbing them together creates subtle sounds that emanate from the end of the sleeves. By extending the body, we increase the consciousness of the body as an entity in space and augment body movement with simple sound. The sleeves give additional meaning to body movements and act as a tool that enhances the arms capabilities. The sleeves become an instrument that invites play.



Joanna Berzowska


The electronic circuit in the sleeves is constructed entirely of metallic silk organzafor contact switches and grounding elementsand simple sewing techniques to stitch circuits using conductive yarns. We built a large sensor array out of soft switches, using small building blocks to create a larger sensing unit. The only hard components Figure 3 Textile electrodes and soft electronics are two small speakers afxed at in the SoundSleeves. Photo by Joanna the end of the sleeves and a tiny Berzowska. microcontroller attached to the

Figure 2 Vincent Leclerc wearing the SoundSleeves. Photo by Joanna Berzowska.

conductive yarns to generate the sounds (Figure 3).

Visually Interactive Textiles

The idea of dynamic, reactive or interactive fashion is predicated on visually animated materials that can be embedded or incorporated in a fabric. In the computer world, there is also a lot of interest in developing fully addressable displays on textiles, not least because of the interest in reactive camouage. Technically


Electronic Textiles: Wearable Computers, Reactive Fashion, and Soft Computation


this is a long way away. New materials for display such as LEDs, electroluminescent (EL) material or high brightness LEDs coupled with woven optical bers such as the Luminex textiles offer a lot of potential for wearable displays or animated fashion. Non-emissive materials, such as electronic ink (E-INK) and various photochromic or thermochromic pigments, are materials that do not emit light. In contrast to emissive technologies such as LEDs or EL material, these inks simply change color and do not light up. This distinction is signicant because textiles with emissive displays are visually appropriate for night or rave-wear, whereas non-emissive animated textile displays remain closer to the tradition of weaving and textile printing. Thermochromic materials are especially interesting because they have different color states at different temperatures. They literally change color in response to temperature uctuations. Photochromic inks respond to variations in exposure to ultraviolet light (primarily sunlight). Both materials are reversible and will change colors repeatedly with the appropriate exposure. Other emerging color-changing technologies

include hydrochromics, which change in response to water, and piezochromics, which change color in response to pressure. Depending on the application, color-changing inks can be applied with a number of printing processes, including offset lithography, exography, gravure, and screen printing. These are highly specialized inks that combine standard ink components with one of several color-changing agents. I use thermochromic leucodye materials that can be engineered to change from a specic color to a clear state at arbitrary temperatures between 25C and 66C. Many colors are possible and unexpected color changes can be obtained by combining thermochromic and regular inks. By mixing inks that change at different temperatures, a more complex effect can be achieved. The inks can be applied with a various printing processes, such as screen printing. In existing products, color change is activated by body heat or through resistive heating that employs a layering of conductive and thermochromic inks (on battery testers), in which case the conductive/resistive ink heats up and changes the color of the ink.

Shimmering Flower
Shimmering Flower deploys simple technology to create a color-change textiles (Figure 4). It functions as a non-emissive display that changes color without emitting light. It is made of soft components conductive yarns and fabrics, thermochromic inks, and custom electronics componentswhich allow the construction of soft, washable, addressable, colorchange animated displays.2 Control electronics that drive the textile display consist of a PCB with various electronic components that is used to send power to different areas of the electronic textile in order to activate the thermochromic inks. This textile can have up to sixty four fabric pixels arranged in an arbitrary design. Each pixel is individually addressable (with conductive yarns) and is controlled to slowly change color. Each color change can be programmed in the custom electronics board or controlled in real time when the display is connected to a computer through the serial port. The visual color composition of the textile animates through several different patterns, resulting in a smooth transition between different designs. The design allows for the creation of many dynamic

Figure 4 Example of color change in the Shimmering Flower weaving. Photo by Joanna Berzowska.



Joanna Berzowska

Figure 5 Shimmering Flower. Photo by Arkadiusz Banasik.


and diverse designs on a textile. Its visual properties (color and pattern) are determined by the pattern and physical conguration of the conductive/resistive yarns and the inks integrated into its surface (Figures 58). Initial prototypes were woven on a hand loom and demonstrated simple, orthogonal designs. The Shimmering Flower textile was woven on a Jacquard loom, which

can create complicated weave structures, including double and triple weaves. Each warp yarn is individually addressable, so that complex and irregular patterns can be woven. This allows me to explore the tradition of weaving to create soft circuitry. By incorporating conductive yarns with the non-conductive yarns, three-dimensional fabrics can be constructed to mimic simple

Electronic Textiles: Wearable Computers, Reactive Fashion, and Soft Computation


Figure 6 Shimmering Flower detail. Photo by Joanna Berzowska.


way, referencing the process of weaving, knitting and other textile construction techniques. Resulting imagery blurs the boundaries between digital image and textile design motif. The aesthetic of the patterns and the animation references the idea of pixel, traditional quilting and weaving practice, as well as emerging research in visual display technology. The slowness and subtlety of the piece references the fact that current technological development is largely focused on speed and hard-edged progress. Textiles have

electronic components. Double weaves can create conductive and insulating textile surfaces that function like a woven circuit board. Shimmering Flower is not a wearable textile. The power requirements are too high and the thermochromic inks need to function in a temperaturecontrolled environment. The prototypes show a possible direction for the development of addressable color-change textiles, but they exist as wall panels and animated paintings. We have solved many technical problems in the production of these pieces, but many still remain.3 The aesthetics of the display mirror the soft qualities of the construction. The textile changes in a slow and contemplative

Figure 7 Shimmering Flower detail. Photo by Joanna Berzowska.



Joanna Berzowska

a uniquely intimate relationship with the human body. Designers of electronic textiles need to focus on personal expression and the social, cultural, and economic history of textiles instead of striving to replace (or augment) human experience. In a time that is more and more dominated by the visual image and the cult of communication, textiles also have the ability to display our needs and desires, as well as our artworks.

Intimate Technology
As designers of wearable technologies, we need to step back and ask why we want our fabrics to be electronic. What kind of information processing do we want to carry out on our bodies? What kind of functionality do we want to enable inside our clothes? The clothing and electronic industries are looking for the killer application, the next big thing that will introduce wearable computing to a mass market. However, many research directions are misguided. The focus on health monitoring and surveillance technologies clearly reects the military funding structures and fails to deliver appealing product ideas that respond to personal, social, and cultural needs. We live in a complex world composed of bits and atoms. We regularly interact with people, computers, and other objects in the environment. The computing and communication capabilities we integrate into physical objects are rapidly increasing, but do not necessarily translate into rich interactions. As thinkers and designers, it is imperative

to ensure that the interactions between people, computers, and the physical environment are useful, enjoyable, and, most importantly, meaningful. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes that physical artifacts help us objectify the self in three ways. They can be viewed as symbols of personal power, symbols of the continuity of the self through time, and symbols of the permanence of relationships that dene the individual in a social framework (Csikszentmihalyi 1993). Similarly, the idea of costuming is thousands of years old and is effectively used to hide, reveal, and distort the self that we present to the world. We use clothing to express a lot of things: social class, economic class, mood, self-esteem, sexuality, profession, religion, and overt labeling through labels with the associated lifestyle promised by advertising. The killer application for wearable computing is to convey personal identity information. This is called fashion and it is mostly visual. Wearable technology in the form of clothes is thousands of years old. Clothing is also one of our most intimate and personal technologies; it functions as protection, disguise, and interface to the world. We need to think carefully about what we want our electronic textiles to do. Many technologies will trickle down from military research labs to fashion design houses, but in the meantime, we have to examine the funding structures for this research and the implications on the research directions that are pursued. We should not forget

Electronic Textiles: Wearable Computers, Reactive Fashion, and Soft Computation


about the intimacy of electronic textiles. Research should not be afraid of the conceptual proximity of these technologies to the body, and should explore the potential for playful disguise, personal expression, and experimentation.

1. The Blazer project was developed by Vincent Leclerc during my Second Skin and Soft Wear course at Concordia University. 2. All the projects, products, and research that share a common interest in electronic textiles run into similar problems. There are many technical and manufacturing issues to be resolved. One of the biggest problems with conductive yarn is how to connect to it and then how to insulate it properly. Soft computation precludes the use of PCBs, insulated wire or soldering. Methods such as tying knots, weaving, sewing and embroidery have been developed to construct simple electronic components. This is a very time-intensive and delicate process. 2. I developed the underlying technology for Shimmering Flower at International Fashion Machines, which I co-founded in 2001. A rst example (called electric Plaid) was shown at The National Design Triennial: Inside Design Now at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York in April 2003. 3. A signicant problem for electronic textiles is the power source. Electrical infrastructure is something we

take for granted and we often forget that electronic textiles would need portable power sources. Batteries are heavy and expensive. Rechargeable batteries need to be removed and plugged in at night. There are no easy answers. One of the alternatives is research into parasitic power, to collect the energy that is wasted in our daily movements and interactions with the world. As power requirements for microelectronics decrease, environmental energy sources can begin to replace batteries in certain wearable subsystems. Projects such as the Parasitic Power Shoes by Joe Paradiso examine devices that harvest excess energy from each step and use it for generating electrical power while walking. Nothing comes for free, however, and the Parasitic Shoes need to sacrice comfort in order to allow energy harvesting.

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Electronic Textiles: Wearable Computers, Reactive Fashion, and Soft Computation